Our Christian forebears used a silent language of signs and gestures, intended as aids in devotion, to actively integrate the body and mind to create a unity which focus ion the celebration of the Great Paschal Mystery.
Our gestures come from tradition. The gestures we use vary from church to church. You are most likely to notice them when you visit a new place and realize it isn’t the same as the place you came from. It is not about is encouraged to worship in the way they fell connected to the divine. It is not about “matching” others.
The traditional gestures and postures in liturgy include: 1) Orans, lifting hands in prayer; 2) sign of the cross, made especially with the right thumb on the forehead or with the right hand on the forehead, chest, and shoulders; 3) standing for praise and kneeling for confession; 4) bowing in reverence; 5) genuflection, or bending the knee, in reverence; 6) passing the peace, sign of greeting and reconciliation; 7) elevation of the elements, offering them to God or showing them to the people; 8) extending the hands in greeting, as at "The Lord be with you"; 9) laying on of hands (or extending them over persons), a sign of blessing and authorization, as in Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, and other sacramental acts.
Genuflection, or Genuflexion
“Genuflection” comes from two Latin words: genu “knee” and flectere “to bend” or “flex.”
A gesture of reverence in worship. It involves touching a knee briefly to the floor while holding the upper body upright, and then returning to a standing position. It is not required anyplace in the Prayer Book. In some parishes it is a customary gesture of reverence for Christ's presence in the consecrated eucharistic elements of bread and wine. In this case the genuflection is made in the direction of the reserve sacrament.
Genuflections. Genuflections may be seen as people enter or leave a church, or the seating area of a church, or the vicinity of a tabernacle (aumbry) where the Sacrament is reserved. The celebrant and assisting ministers may genuflect at the end of the eucharistic prayer or after the words of institution concerning each element in the eucharistic prayer.
Genuflecting on the right knee, is the appropriate way to respect Christ, God or the sacrament. Genuflecting on the left knee, is the gesture of a knight to his King, of a military member presenting a flag to a family at a funeral or any other form of respect for a person.
Some prefer the profound bow as a more ancient gesture of reverence in worship.
Kneel (or Stand)
A traditional posture of prayer is when your weight rests on the knees. The pews of many churches have "kneelers" or cushions to protect the knees of those who kneel for prayer. Kneeling to pray may express penitence, supplication, and humility. Depending on local custom and personal piety, some worshipers choose to kneel one or more places during worship 1) to offer private prayer, 2) during the prayers of the people, 3) while saying the general confession and receiving absolution, 4) during the Great Thanksgiving, 5) to receive communion at the altar rail, 6) during the prayer of thanksgiving after communion, and 7) to receive the blessing.
When the BCP was revised in the 1970s parishioners were invited to follow the ancient practice of the church, when the congregation stood for prayer during portions of the service when kneeling had been customary. Standing for the eucharistic prayer emphasizes the eucharist to be a celebration in community rather than an expression of penitence by individuals.
In the BCP there are places where a recommended change in posture is indicated saying (in italics) standing, (pg 358), sit (pg 357) Stand or kneel, (pg 362), Kneeling (pg 41 & 79). If there are two options, the first is preferred. Note: There is no recommended change in posture between the Nicene Creed and the Prayers of the people. There is a direction to stand following the confession (for those who did not remain standing).
Laying on of Hands
A significant ritual action in several sacramental rites. It is an external sign of the bestowal of God's grace through the prayer or the ministry of the one laying on hands, whether for spiritual growth or ministry or forgiveness or healing. It is the action which accompanies the prayer of consecration in ordination rites. It is a prominent action in the Ministration to the Sick. It accompanies the baptismal signing with the cross, and the pronouncing of the priestly absolution in the Reconciliation of Penitents. It may also accompany the nuptial blessing or other blessings. The term may be used as a synonym for confirmation.
The traditional posture of early Christian prayer involved one standing with the arms raised and extended like the letter "Y" with the palms uplifted. In the early church the entire congregation prayed in this position. Today, except it is usually only the presider who uses the orans position for prayer. The position may be modified by bending the elbows so the hands are approximately at eye level.
Sign of the Cross
This ancient Christian gesture traces the cross on oneself, on objects, or other people. Depending on the context, the gesture may express personal Christian devotion or identity, blessing, absolution, consecration to holy use, or the conclusion of something done to the honor of God. The sign of the cross may be traced with a hand, as when the sign of the cross is made over something , for example a priest will make the sign of the cross over the bread and wine during Holy Eucharist. A person make the sign of the cross by moving their hand from forehead to lower chest and from left shoulder to the right shoulder. In the Christian west, this gesture customarily moves from left to right. In the Christian east this gesture moves from right to left. Signing of the forehead alone, or of the forehead, lips, and heart at the gospel during the service of Holy Eucharist, is customarily done with the thumb. The sign of the cross is a customary gesture. For example, it may be used at the beginning or ending of one of the Daily Offices, at the reading of the gospel in the eucharist, or at the absolution following the confession in the eucharist. Although use of the sign of the cross is widespread throughout the Episcopal Church by celebrants, officiants, and parishioners, its use is typically a matter of custom and personal piety. The BCP does not require the gesture to be made by members of the congregation at any time.
A liturgical exchange of greeting through word and gesture. It is a sign of reconciliation, love, and renewed relationships in the Christian community. It is initiated by the celebrant, who says, "The peace of the Lord be always with you." The people respond, "And also with you." The ministers and people may greet one another in the name of the Lord (BCP, pp. 332, 360). Any appropriate words of greeting may be used in the exchange of peace that follows between individuals (BCP, p. 407). The gesture of greeting has been expressed in a variety of ways, an embrace, a handclasp, or a nod or bow. Historically the peace was known as the kiss of peace including a kiss on the cheek, and the Pax (from the Latin, "peace").
The experience of corporate or individual nearness with God, through words, acts, or silence. Any act or activity offered to God in a spirit of dedication may be prayerful. This nearness may take the form of addressing God, as in prayers of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication (ACTS); or the form of listening, as in contemplative and meditative prayer. Both forms assume a relationship between God and the one who prays. Prayer is the opening of the direct relationship between God and humanity.
The practice, usually in silence, of fixing attention on a specific word, phrase, image, sound, or text. Some meditative practices produce an emptying of thoughts and emotions. Meditation may lead to an experience of union between the one who meditates and the object of meditation. Meditation practices are known in most of the major religious traditions of the world. Meditation is a mainstay in the prayer life of many Episcopalians.
A liturgical answer or statement that responds to a prayer, bidding, or reading. The response may be paired with and follow a versicle. For example, Suffrages A and B in Morning Prayer each contain a series of versicles and responses (BCP, pp. 97-98). The initial letter "R" indicates the responses in these suffrages and in other pairs of versicles and responses (see, e.g., BCP, p. 569). Noonday Office and Evening Prayer begin with the versicle, "O God, make speed to save us," and the response, "O Lord, make haste to help us" (BCP, pp. 103, 117). This versicle and response, which is based on Ps 70:1, also follows the confession of sin at the beginning of Compline (BCP, p. 128).
The readings from scripture at Noonday Office and Compline are followed by the people's response, "Thanks be to God." After each lesson at Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and the eucharist, the reader may say, "The Word of the Lord," and the people answer, "Thanks be to God." The reader may also say, "Here ends the Lesson (or reading)," to which no verbal response is made by the people. After the deacon or priest announces the gospel at the eucharist, the people answer, "Glory to you, Lord Christ." After the gospel is read or sung, the reader says, "The Gospel of the Lord," and the people answer, "Praise to you, Lord Christ." The customary responses before and after the gospel are omitted on Palm Sunday and Good Friday (BCP, pp. 272, 277).
Intercessions and other prayers may also have a response. For example, the biddings of the prayers of the people, Form V, are followed by the people's response, "Lord, have mercy" (BCP, p. 389). At the Ordination of a Bishop, the people respond to questions by the Presiding Bishop, answering that it is their will that the bishop-elect be ordained a bishop and that they will uphold the bishop-elect as bishop (BCP, p. 514).
In addition to fixed liturgical responses, there are also occasions when a response may be a personal statement. A response to the scripture readings may follow the gospel at a Marriage (BCP, p. 426). Responses may be made to the sermon at a Celebration of New Ministry (BCP, p. 560). At the Dedication and Consecration of a Church, the bishop may respond to the plans of the congregation for witness to the gospel by indicating the place of the congregation within the life of the diocese (BCP, p. 576).
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